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The political landscape of West Africa’s Sahel region has recently experienced upheavals, with Niger undergoing a military coup that ousted its democratically elected President, Mohamed Bazoum. Given the region’s significance, this crisis presents a strategic and moral challenge for the West. 

Mr. Bazoum became president in 2021.Credit…Pool photo by Yves Herman

Niger, strategically located just south of the Sahara in the Sahel region, had positioned itself as a democratic bastion amidst a wave of military takeovers in neighboring countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. Until recently, Niger was considered the West’s most reliable partner in the fight against extremism in a Francophone region where rising anti-French sentiment made room for potential Russian influence, especially from groups like Wagner.

Furthermore, Western nations had invested heavily in Niger, particularly to strengthen its security forces against Islamist insurgencies linked to both al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Given the strategic orientation of Mali and Burkina Faso towards Russia, Niger’s role was critical for Western interests.

The political turmoil began when Niger’s Presidential Guard members detained President Bazoum. This sent shockwaves through the Sahel and threatened the entire region’s stability. Niger had experienced four military coups since its independence from France in 1960. Still, the recent takeover is particularly concerning given the country’s pivotal role in regional counterterrorism efforts and its significant uranium and oil deposits, which are strategically crucial to global powers.

Regional bodies, notably the West African bloc ECOWAS and the African Union, have strongly condemned the coup. ECOWAS has even laid out plans for military action if the coup is not reversed and gave the deadline to the coup organizers, emphasizing its commitment to democratic governance in the region.

ECOWAS leaders finalize plan for potential military intervention in Niger | DW News

Given Niger’s critical position in the fight against extremist groups, a stable Niger aligns with Western security interests. The US, China, Europe, and Russia all recognize Niger’s strategic importance. Any further destabilization might offer extremist groups more room to operate and grow.

The West, especially nations such as the US and France, have long championed the cause of democracy. Supporting ECOWAS’ intervention would reinstate a democratically elected leader and send a strong message about the international community’s commitment to democratic norms.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the Treaty Room with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid (not pictured) at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo

With countries like Mali and Burkina Faso tilting towards Russia, ensuring Niger remains a reliable partner for the West is essential to counterbalance the increasing Russian influence in the Sahel region. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the immediate release of ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and the restoration of democratic order in the country.

The coup and potential escalation of conflict might worsen the humanitarian situation in an impoverished region, leading to further displacement and suffering. A swift resolution through intervention could mitigate this scenario.

The unfolding events in Niger are not just of regional significance but have broader implications for global security and the spread of democratic values. In alignment with its strategic interests and values, the West should support ECOWAS’ military intervention, working collaboratively to restore democracy and ensure a stable Sahel region.

The views and opinions expressed in this magazine are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the EU. The EU has provided funding for BullsEye Magazine as part of its commitment to supporting youth and fostering open dialogue on relevant topics.